Armenian Church of Singapore: An oldest Christian Church in Singapore

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The Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator is said to be the oldest Christian Church in Singapore. The Armenian Church is situated at Hill Street. It was designed George Drumgoole Coleman, a prominent artist that is responsible for a lot of Singapore’s historical structures from the colonial era.

Saint Gregory the Illuminator

The Armenian community in Singapore was given a piece of land by the government where the church is settled in the year 1833. They did a fundraising campaign among the Armenian communities and settlers in Singapore who manages to acquire 5000 Spanish dollars covering half of the construction. The remaining balance came from the Indian and Java communities. By the following year, the construction of the church began. The construction was completed in 1835 and inaugurated on March 26, 1836. The house of worship was dedicated to Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the pioneer patriarch of the Armenian Church.

Architecture

The Armenian Church is constructed in the British-Neo Classical style, and modeled after Saint Gregory’s Church in Echmiadzin, in Northern Armenia. Coleman came up with a design that is especially adapted and fitte to Singapore’s tropical climate. He also incorporated wide verandahs to give ample shade and protection against the tropical rains and storms.

Originally, the bell turret that Architect Coleman designed turned out to be structurally unstable and had to be demolished for safety purposes.  In its location, a square tower was erected in the year 1846 and in 1853 they added a spire.

Armenian Personalities in Singapore

The Armenian community in Singapore included several prominent celebrities. Among them are Sarkies Brothers, Archak, Aviet, and Tigran. They are the ones responsible for the foundation of the raffles Hotel, The E&O Hotel in Penang, and the Strand in Yangon. Another Armenian celebrity in Singapore is Agnes Joaquim. Agnes is a holticulturist who in the year 1893 discovered Singapore’s first hybrid orchid which is presently known as Vanda Miss Joaquim. The very same orchid was proclaimed to be Singapore’s national flower in the year 1981. Finally there was Catchik Moses, the person who founded the Straits Times n 1845 but sold after a year because it was not making any profit at that time. Little did he know, his creation turns out to be Singapore’s National English Newspaper.

All the mentioned personalities are said lying in the MemorialGarden at the back of the Armenian Church. For a trivia, they were not originally buried at the back of the church, for the MemorialGarden was never meant to be a burial ground. The tombstones were only transported over when Bukit Timah Christian cemetery was exhumed in the year 1988.

Fast Fact about the Armenian Church

  • It is the first church that was built in Singapore.
  • It was dedicated to Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the first Armenian Monk
  • Believed to be the first building in Singapore to have electricity with the installation of fans and lights when electricity came to the country in the year 1909
  • Construction was completed in the year 1835 by Architect Coleman. He combined the symmetry of Palladian Architecture with the practical details of Eastern Architecture like louvers and verandahs.
  • The pitch roof and spire was built by George Maddock. He had replaced the original dome as one of the distinctive features of its architecture. However, the circular shape is still evident in the interior.

The Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator was recognized as a National Monument and has won an Urban Redevelopment Authority conservation award in the year 1995. Urban Redevelopment Authority is Singapore’s national land use planning authority.

The Armenian Church is truly Singapore’s cultural wealth. It mirrors the great works of the prominent Armenian personalities over time.